The plot sounds promising: The Necromongers, the most powerful army in the universe, are led by a man who follows a strange religion that promises an afterlife only to its believers. On New Mecca, a peaceful planet, worried Muslims scurry about hoping the invading army does not arrive. Unfortunately, their hopes are dashed when the Necromongers begin a series of shock-and-awe bombings that destroy homes and kill women and children. Then the Necromongers land and have the gall to claim that they've actually come to liberate the New Meccans.
Crazy, huh? Unfortunately, this interesting tale is derailed by writer/director David Twohy's meandering script. Instead of sticking with the story of the invading army and the noble Imam who resists them, he instead follows his lead character, Riddick, to a largely unrelated plot.
As the film begins, Riddick (Vin Diesel) has been summoned to New Mecca by Imam Abu al-Walid and his friends have heard a rumor that only someone of Riddick's race, the Furions, can stop the invading Necromongers (because no one else in the universe has a name as stupid as "Furions"). Unfortunately, Riddick isn't interested in stopping the Necromongers, as he's a serial-killing outlaw who makes Courtney Love seem socially responsible.
However, he does have an unnatural attachment to a young girl he saved from space monsters in a previous movie (Pitch Black), so he leaves the plot of Chronicles of Riddick behind in order to go off into some other film in which he can rescue this girl from a prison planet.
That's when the very long and very boring middle section of the film kicks in. The great-looking Necromongers, with their giant-statue spaceships and medieval space armor, are largely dropped out of the film for what I'm pretty sure is 14 hours of pointless "action" on a prison planet.
Which is too bad, because the Necromonger stuff isn't bad. Well, it's bad, but it's not awful. Or maybe it's awful, but it looks awesome. Plus, whenever the Necromongers are on screen, there's some cool digitized wailing voices that sound sort of like a Muslim call to prayer that's been run through a midi-hookup to an old Farfisa organ.
And there's actually some interesting Necromonger characters, including a MacBeth-like commander named Vaako (Karl Urban) and his Lady Macbeth-like wife. The wife is played by Thandie Newton, who has a face that could launch somewhere between 900 and 1,100 space ships.
Lady Vaako spends a lot of time trying to get her husband to kill the commander of the Necromongers and take his place and to nae go to Birnam woods. Meanwhile, Lord Vaako frets and hesitates and waits for Riddick to come and do the dirty work for him.
Why this isn't the main storyline is beyond me, but I think director Twohy was hoping that the flashy effects and dark-fantasy design elements of his film would substitute for other things, like having an interesting lead character or a cohesive plot. Of course, if you wanted to stare at a dark-fantasy design that had no character or story, you could just go to sexyelvenladies.com. From a movie, we expect a bit more.
And Chronicles of Riddick isn't giving it. Besides the lame plot detours, the biggest problem with Riddick is Riddick. It's not that he's an unlikable character (he is, but that's not the problem); it's that he's so uninteresting in this film. His one-dimensional persona was fine in Pitch Black, where there was a reason to root for him as he tried to save more interesting people, but in Riddick, we're supposed to sympathize with him, and it just doesn't work.
Neither Diesel nor the script give Riddick enough personality to make him sympathetic. They give him enough special effects to make him interesting to look at, but I only really want to look at Vin Diesel for about 30 or 40 minutes on any given day, and this film is two hours long. Beyond that, Diesel has to be doing something I care about, or I'll stop looking at him and go back to looking at Carrie Fisher or Wilford Brimley or that Fox News special on how great Fox News is.
I do wish Riddick had been better, and not just because I had to spend two hours of my life sitting through it. No, actually, come to think of it, that's the only reason. I really don't care if anything bad happens to Vin Diesel's career; it would cheer me to learn that Hollywood had decided it wasn't worthwhile to pump out multimillion dollar effects films, and if the failure of Riddick gave some bloated Hollywood executive the idea that maybe making endless sequels is not a better idea than starting with an original and engaging story, well then perhaps the world would be a better place.